by Eric Freedman
Two miles of pristine Lake Superior shoreline, sand dunes and an 83-acre inland lake are now open to the public as part of a 3,816-acre expansion of state-owned forestland in the central Upper Peninsula.
The $6 million parcel is a “public asset,” said Tom Bailey, executive director of the Little Traverse Conservancy, which worked with the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and U.S. Forest Service to bring the Crisp Point Project to fruition.
Crisp Point includes steep bluffs, sand dunes and streams, as well as 2.5 miles of snowmobile trails, according to DNR. Public recreational uses include hunting, kayaking, fishing and wildlife viewing. Existing two-tracks will remain open, and DNR has no plans to build any structures or campgrounds there.
It is 14 miles west of Whitefish Point and 17 miles from where the steamer Edmund Fitzgerald — the most famous Great Lakes shipwreck — sank in a legendary November 1975 storm.
“It’s an absolutely gorgeous place to be,” said Kerry Wieber, the Roscommon-based DNR forest land administrator in charge of the project.
It’s home to a number of endangered or threatened plant and animal species including bald eagle, piping plover, spruce grouse, calypso orchid, common loon, Houghton’s goldenrod and Lake Huron tansy, Wieber said. There’s also potential habitat there for the endangered Kirtland’s warbler and the threatened Canada lynx.
And during the spring toad hatch at Browns Lake, the inland lake, “it looks like the ground’s moving” with tiny toads, she said.
According to the Harbor Springs-based Little Traverse Conservancy, the seller, Tad Malpass, started acquiring tracts of land in the 1980s, creating “his own private wilderness, eliminating the boundary lines that seemed so artificial and absurd to him in such a wild and beautiful land.”
To finance the deal, the federal Forest Legacy Program committed $4.5 million after a competition where the project ranked third among 60 to 70 competitors nationally, Wieber said.
The remaining $1.5 million came from the J.A. Woollam Foundation of Lincoln, Neb. Founder John Woollam, is originally from Kalamazoo, visited the site and “fell in love,” she said.
The foundation has provided grants to other environmental organizations in the state, such as the Southwest Michigan Land Conservancy and the Heart of the Lakes Center for Land Conservation Policy.
DNR is developing timber management plans for most of the property. Timber won’t be harvested in fragile dune areas along Lake Superior, next to streams or on the shore of Browns Lake, she said.
Northern hardwoods are the most valuable type of trees there and Bailey said timber will provide a “sustained stream of forest products” that will generate revenue for the state.
DNR unit manager Keith Magnusson said fieldwork will start this fall to inventory types of trees and to survey natural features.
“It’s still in the preliminary stages,” said Magnusson, who is based in Newberry.
In 2016, the department expects to begin “treatments” such as cutting, controlling invasive species and prescribed burning if necessary,” he said.
The newly acquired land adjoins property owned by Luce County that was home to the 1875 Crisp Point U.S. Life-Saving Station, one of five along the “Shipwreck Coast” between Munising and Whitefish Point.
“It was without doubt the most isolated station on the south shore of Superior and remains so in its dotage,” said Portage writer Joseph Heywood. He set key parts of his 2011 crime novel, “Force of Blood,” at Crisp Point.
The existing lighthouse was built in 1903-04, according to the nonprofit Crisp Point Light Historical Society that maintains it. The Coast Guard decommissioned the lighthouse in 1993.